A team of Hawaiian waka carvers has spent several days in the Kaitaia area paying tribute to the late Sir Hekenukumai Busby.

The four Hawaiians, from Na Kalai Wa'a o Laka (The Canoe Carvers of Laka), took part in last month's Rātā Waka Symposium in Whangārei, where they carved a traditional outrigger fishing canoe from a totara log.

They then joined the Tuia 250 commemorations around Northland, which included launching their waka — along with three others carved by Tahitian and Māori experts — at Russell on November 6.

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Following the departure of the Tuia 250 flotilla the Hawaiians then headed to Kaitaia to pay their respects to the late Sir Hekenukumai Busby, who is credited with reviving Māori ocean voyaging and celestial navigation traditions. He died in May aged 86.

They visited Sir Hek's Kupe Waka Centre at Aurere, in Doubtless Bay, and the urupā at Pukepoto where he was laid to rest. They stayed at Te Rarawa Marae, also in Pukepoto.

The Hawaiian waka carvers and hosts pay their respects at Sir Hekenukumai Busby's waka school at Aurere, in Doubtless Bay. Photo / Tuia 250
The Hawaiian waka carvers and hosts pay their respects at Sir Hekenukumai Busby's waka school at Aurere, in Doubtless Bay. Photo / Tuia 250

Team leader Alika Bumatay said his father, Ray Bumatay, and Papa Hek had been good friends, ''so it was only proper to pay our respects''.

His father had fallen ill shortly before the trip so was unable to come.

''I said some words at the cemetery on behalf of my dad and myself. It was a very moving, humbling experience. We shed a lot of tears up there. We lost a legend,'' Bumatay said.

They gifted the canoe to James Clyde of Kerikeri, who had donated the totara log.

The group had forged strong friendships while in Aotearoa, he said.

''When you are carving it does something to you. The people you meet when you're doing it, they become lifelong friends and family. You never forget them.''

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Bumatay said he hoped to return in future.

''When the kupuna (tupuna, ancestors) call, we'll be back.''